SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Kansas State met for a short practice at Scottsdale Community College on Saturday. The Wildcats opened with special teams and fundamental drills, scrimmaged for about an hour and then gathered at midfield for a 10-minute talk from coach Bill Snyder.
Players also marveled at the mountains within view and dedicated time to making sure they wore the correct shoes and cleats for the grass field they practiced on and will see at University of Phoenix Stadium on Thursday.
When it was over, Snyder said he considered the light workout a success. But he also thinks the team needs to make progress in several areas.
“If it was perfect, we would just go home,” Snyder said. “We still have got some things to accomplish that we haven’t yet.”
Injury updates – Receiver Curry Sexton was a full participant in Saturday’s practice, and Snyder said he will be available to play in the Fiesta Bowl after missing the final two regular-season games with a shoulder injury. Sexton caught seven passes for 75 yards and a touchdown this season. Two players who definitely won’t play against Oregon: linebacker Tre Walker and backup running back DeMarcus Robinson. Both players watched practice on crutches.
Everybody loves Arthur — To say the Oregon players and coaches have a high amount of respect for K-State linebacker and Wichita native Arthur Brown might be an understatement.
Oregon coach Chip Kelly calls Brown “maybe the best linebacker we’ve played all year.” Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota echoed Kelly’s sentiment, taking it a step further.
“Maybe the best defensive player we’ve played against,” Mariota said. “So quick and so fast ... just relentless.”
Brown, the coaches’ Big 12 defensive player of the year, leads the Wildcats with 91 tackles and was recently selected to play in the Senior Bowl.
“I’ve seen a lot of linebackers who, at some point, will jog while they’re on the field or when a play goes away from them they’ll just punt it to the safety or the defensive back and be like, ‘That’s on you,’ ” Oregon right guard Ryan Clanton said. “That’s not (Brown). If he’s on the field, he’s in on the play ... he’s one of those guys that is jumping over piles and making plays everywhere. He’s all over the place.”
Brown, in typical fashion, took the praise in stride.
“Coming from Chip Kelly, that’s truly an honor,” Brown said. “But that’s something that comes with a lot of preparation as a team. It comes because I’ve had a lot of great support.”
Oregon’s Helfrich is homegrown product -- Oregon offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich spent his youth attending games at Oregon’s Autzen Stadium in an era foreign to a generation of fans who have only known winning and national recognition.
“I grew up a Duck fan, coming to Autzen Stadium for a lot of years when the team wasn’t very good,” Helfrich said. “We could basically have a full game of 11-on-11 football in the parking lot … you can’t do that anymore.”
Helfrich grew up in Coos Bay, Ore., 2 1/2 hours from Eugene, and was a star quarterback at Marshfield High. He turned down an offer to walk on at Oregon and set records at Southern Oregon University, in Ashland, from 1992-95.
After spending 1997 as a graduate assistant at Oregon, he spent time as a quarterbacks coach at Boise State and Arizona State and as offensive coordinator at Colorado from 2006-08 before coming back to Oregon as offensive coordinator in 2009, replacing Chip Kelly after Kelly was hired to replace Mike Bellotti.
Were Kelly to leave Oregon for the NFL or another job, Helfrich is considered the next in line for the head-coaching position. It’s something Duck fans — who have been sometimes critical of Kelly for his perceived disconnect with the fan base — take a lot of comfort in because of Helfrich’s roots.
“That’s cool if (fans) do feel that connection with me,” Helfrich said. “From my perspective, that’s awesome. But I think the tough ribbing Chip takes from (the fans) isn’t fair. He loves Oregon.”
From humble beginnings — K-State senior defensive end Meshak Williams hasn’t forgotten where his college career started — chasing quarterbacks down for Hutchinson Community College with fellow K-State senior defensive end Adam Davis. The duo played together for the Blue Dragons in 2009 and Davis redshirted at K-State in 2010.
“We had these crazy competitions between us where we were always trying to one-up each other,” Williams said. “If he got two sacks, I wanted three. If I got three, he wanted four.”
Williams spent last season, his first with the Wildcats, as the top backup at defensive end behind Davis and Jordan Voelker. He only had 28 tackles in 2011, but was an second-team All-Big 12 pick thanks to his 10 tackles for loss and seven sacks.
“I did pretty good and had a big role, but I needed to step up and be one of the leaders on the defensive line,” Williams said. “We all worked hard through the spring and the summer to get better.”
Williams made the leap to starter this season — and to All-Big 12 — by improving his stats and helping lead the Wildcats back to a BCS bowl for the first time since 2003.
Williams has 36 tackles, 14 tackles for loss and 10 sacks.
The Ducks have noticed Williams’ impact.
“Very fast player, very strong,” Oregon center Hroniss Grasu said. “He gets off the ball so fast, just like all of their front seven.”
Williams has a shot at making an NFL roster next season — he’s got the right combination of size (6-foot-4, 245 pounds) and speed (4.7-second 40-yard dash) to be either an outside linebacker or rush end, not to mention the impact he could make on special teams.
Right now, he’s rated the No. 17 defensive end in the 2013 draft class by NFLdraftscout.com, which also marks Williams’ draft stock as being on the rise.
“I’ve always wanted to play at the next level, that’s my dream,” Williams said. “But we’ll see what goes on after this. A lot could happen.”